I once asked Michel Thomas about studying on my own.
He urged me to read in the language I was studying.
“Read what you enjoy and don’t look up words in a dictionary. Just keep on reading,” he told me.
His advice was built on the fact that when we simply relax into whatever we are doing, we will recall much more than if we set out to recall and remember stuff.
Thus, simply reading becomes a way of taking one’s mind out of the ” I am doing this to improve my vocabulary” mode.
It is nice in that I find myself using vocabulary and sentence construction that I never sat down to formally learn.
Recently I was speaking French with a lady whom I had just met. She was very upset about some things in her life and found it hard to speak English. So we spoke French.
I had learned French with Michel Thomas in the 1990’s but hadn’t spoken much since. However, on this day it all just poured out including a lot of vocabulary and sentences that I had never worked on.
I figure it must have come from my reading light material in French over the years. When reading these texts I simply pushed on whether I understood every word or not. Michel told me that if the same word kept coming up and it was really bugging me then I could look it up. Otherwise, don’t look it up. Just read and enjoy whatever it is. If it is really interesting then you will unconsciously make pictures and that will reinforce your understanding of the language.
From context the unconscious figures out what the words mean just like a kid learning a language understands that you use this or that word in certain situations.
Today Boris, my Russian teacher, went through a spontaneous riff on how to ask someone to enter a room in Russian.
Say they knock on the door and you want to let them know that they should enter.
The way that is translated as ” enter” in the dictionary, he said, is actually almost a military command like proceed. This word is проходите. In my office I have been using this word almost daily with my secretary. She is Russian and we use the language to conduct business. It is one of the reasons I hired her. I now get to speak Russian daily as part of my work. Nice. She never told me that this is not the way that she would ask someone to enter. I am her employer. She understood but wasn’t about to give me such personal feedback. So Boris did. He told me that заходите is a less formal, less commanding form. да, да or можно are two very informal ways to indicate that you are OK with the person coming in. This is the fine tuning of language use. It is delightful for me to learn these things. It makes my experience of using the language a lot more satisfying and personal.
This is only something that can be learned in context.
So reading what you enjoy is a wonderful way to begin to learn such things.
( to be continued)